Food for thought

In her regular column Link4Growth volunteer Debra Oakaby visits a community cafe helping vulnerable people

YMCA East London's community cafe

YMCA East London’s community cafe

With an emphasis on good homemade food at affordable prices and healthy options to complement its health and wellbeing facilities, YMCA East London’s community cafe is a place you will want to visit.

Easily accessed on the ground floor, the café is light, modern and spacious, and free wifi is available. There I met Al Kolley, the catering manager who leads a team of six staff.

He showed me the menu for the day with meat (including halal), fish and vegetarian dishes, based on English, Mediterranean and Caribbean cuisine. Homemade soup and bread are also on the menu.

Having worked in catering since 1988, Al is passionate about food and ensures it is cooked in small quantities to preserve its freshness, especially as some residents work shifts.

The staff work well together as a team and are encouraged to share their ideas for the menu. I learned that jollof rice, a traditional west African dish, was suggested by one of the general assistants. It proved so popular that they are going to do it again. And hot chilli sauce has become a firm favourite.

Stuart Creed, head of community services, told me about the health and wellbeing ethos of the YMCA for residents and the wider community. “We’re about doing something different,” he tells me.

I was at the launch of YMCA East London’s Health and Wellbeing Centre in Forest Road last year, opened by the mayor of Waltham Forest. The gym now has more than one thousand members, who can enjoy a range of exercise classes, free crèche, and 15 percent discount in the café.

In addition, the public can get free advice on a range of subjects, such as how to stop smoking at ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ sessions. You can also join in at Monday’s ‘Conversation Café’ with board games and art activities, and visit the bookstall.

The café plays an important role with its healthy-eating bias and income is reinvested in the YMCA’s work to support vulnerable and homeless people. Indeed Al has a message for you: “Come and try YMCA’s new café – it will be an experience you’ll like and enjoy, welcoming environment, friendly team and good value.”

For Al being able to provide the residents with a warm welcome makes everything they do worthwhile. He described how his staff can be the first and last points of human contact for residents each day, and greeting them with a smile makes a difference.

I am delighted to say that Link4Growth community networking meetings will now be held at the café, starting on Thursday 1st September at 10am, and thereafter on the first Thursday of each month at the same time. Everyone is welcome and the event is free, just make sure you buy a drink to support the café! See you soon.

The new community café at YMCA East London, Forest Road, is open seven days a week from 7.30am-7pm, Monday to Friday, and 7.30am-2pm at weekends. For more information on YMCA East London:

Call 020 8509 4600